Before You Say I Do…to Every Assignment – Ashley Bennett

Writers often jump at the prospect of work. They will jump through hoops, walk through fire, and compromise their core values just because there might be a chance of getting some work. They will often overlook important details about projects, which might cause them to never get paid or get any credit for their work. Writers need to think carefully before they say “I do” to any project. Experienced writers probably know all of this, but inexperienced writers often make a lot of mistakes in this area. Here are some things to consider before saying “I do” to any project.

Vetting Clients

Before you start working with any client, it is essential that you take time to discuss the project with them via phone or email. It is your responsibility as the writer to ask the right questions to ensure that both parties are on the same page before you begin the project. Here a few key questions to ask during your initial consultation.

  • Have you ever worked with a freelance writer before?
  • What is the budget for this project?
  • How will I get paid?
  • When will I get paid?

After you have had this conversation with them, it is recommended that you take some time to review the offer before you accept it. Carefully evaluate the offer and then begin to research the organization. Do a Google search about them and see what comes up about them. You should be wary if you find a lot of negative information about them online. Also, check with the Better Business Bureau to see if they have any complaints.

If you have decided to work with this client, you should create a project bid. A project bid is basically a document that clearly defines your role in the project, your fee, timeline, and lists all deliverables. Providing your client with a complete project bid is another way to make sure that everyone understands what will happen and it will stop most problems before they start.

Making a Contract

Once you have given the client a project bid, you will hopefully both agree on the terms and use it to create a contract. A contract can be any written agreement with the client whether it is sent through email, snail mail, or signed in person. It is key that you do not start any type of project without a having a contract in place because they will have license to do anything they want if you do not have one. Even if they do not pay you, you will have more possible legal remedies at your disposal if you have one in place. Also, be wary of clients that ask you to provide free sample articles because that is generally an unethical practice that could lead them to take your work without paying you. As a writer, you will want to setup favorable terms that help you get paid faster and allow you to keep your rights to your work. Here are some terms to consider adding to your contract.

Require a deposit (usually 30-50% is the standard) – Even if they claim that they do not offer deposits, you can possibly negotiate one, even if it is for a smaller amount. Having a client give you a deposit is the strongest guarantee that they will actually pay you and follow through with the project. Most magazines and publications do not pay a deposit or advance, but most private clients and businesses can and should pay a deposit.

Ask for a kill fee – Always ask for a kill fee because it will ensure that you will be compensated for the time that you put into the project even if they decide not to complete the project. The kill fee may be the deposit itself or your rate for the amount of time that you have already put into the project.

Try to keep your rights – As a writer, your work is your intellectual property. It is to your advantage to retain as many rights as possible. If you are writing for a publication, then request that they receive one-time rights, First North American Serial Rights (FNASR), or first print rights. When a publication requests all rights, archival rights, or exclusive rights then you should negotiate a higher fee. If you are writing for a corporate client, then it is likely that they will keep the rights to it, but you should at least ask if you can use the sample in your portfolio.

Getting Paid

The mistake that a lot of writers make in terms of negotiating is that they are literally afraid to ask for what they want. They are afraid that if they ask for what they want, that the client will abandon them. In some cases, that might be true, but it is still a benefit to you. It is better that you have a disagreement before work has started so you do not have to fight your money later on after you have invested your time and effort into the project. In terms of negotiations, you need to ask for what you want even if you think that they will say no and negotiate your way from there. Do not bend on key issues like deposits, payment terms, and rights. Even if the client does not have the budget to afford you, you could narrow the scope of the project to still get a respectable fee for your time.

At the end of the day, getting a new client is a joyous occasion, but it does require a considerable amount of forethought and planning prior to saying “I do” to a project. All of this may sound like basic information, but many writers forget these things when they get excited about getting work. Remember all of these things when clients knock and most importantly, think before you say “I do”.

Ashley Bennett is a freelance writer and photographer. Please visit her website at